Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Why Journaling Helps You Relieve Stress

by James Porter February 16, 2011

Have you ever asked your doctor about your stress? If you did, he or she probably didn't have much to say because a diagnosis of stress is difficult to make. It takes time (which most doctors don't have), it's a bit of a guessing game, it requires a background in both mind and body medicine and not all patients have the same symptoms or experience stress in the same way.

To simplify things, your doctor might prescribe something to relieve the symptoms you are suffering from, without ever taking the time to figure out exactly what is causing them. You take this prescription, despite the side-effects, thinking it is cure for your problem when oftentimes it is only just masking the symptoms.

This is roughly the equivalent of seeing a warning light on the dashboard of your car, taking your car in to be serviced, and having the auto mechanic suggest that you put masking tape over the offending signal. Of course, the warning light is not the problem. It is only an indication of a problem. Every day millions of people take over-the-counter and prescription drugs thinking these drugs are a cure for their stress-related health problems, when in fact, these medicines usually don't address the problem at its source.

Why Journaling Helps You Relieve StressBut you can take the time your doctor doesn't have and get to the root of your stress-related symptoms by doing some of the investigative work yourself. Doctors are great at determining standard cause and effect relationships between most symptoms and their causes. For example, if you go to the doctor with a rash (that looks like poison ivy) he'll probably ask you if you've been gardening or walking in the woods lately. If you say yes, he'll probably conclude that you've touched poison ivy and will give you something to relieve the itch. But if you've never been allergic to poison ivy before, the diagnosis gets a little more complicated and might involve stress.

What actually may be happening is that your immune system has been compromised by an increase in your levels of stress, and as the result of touching poison ivy (plus your stress) you come down with a rash. You can also get a rash that looks like poison ivy JUST FROM BEING STRESSED. So these non-standard cause and effect relationships are more difficult to sort out. That's why it's important for YOU to keep track of your own stress. (Don't forget to mention your findings when you go into see the doctor about your rash.) And the easiest way for you to keep track of your stress is by journaling.

Once you start journaling you'll begin to see the connection between your stress symptoms and the events and circumstances that are causing you to feel stressed. This is an important first step to eliminating unnecessary stress in your life. Here are some classic stress symptoms you might want to look out for when keeping your journal:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Pounding heart
  • Unexpected perspiration
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling anxious
  • Dry mouth
  • Cold hands
  • Nervous stomach
  • Fidgety

Whenever you notice a stress symptom, ask yourself, what was I doing or what am I doing that is causing me to feel this way? We often try to soldier through our stressful moments in life and pay them no mind. As if these feelings were an inevitable part of living. This is how our acute (or occasional) stress becomes chronic (in other words: a stress-related health problem that doesn't go away).

Ignoring minor symptoms of stress is likely to end up causing you more serious problems later. Eventually, you might end up with a stress-related disorder like:

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Allergies
  • Gastro-intestinal problems
  • Low back pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Recurrent colds
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Immune system disorders

Symptoms on the first list are easy to recognize and easy to do something about. Taking corrective action quickly will prevent you from winding up with the health problems on the second list. But once you've made it to this second list, solutions are not so easy. You've got to make major adjustments often involving major lifestyle changes.

Many people never stop to consider their own levels of stress long enough, to make the minor corrections necessary to stay off the second list. They let stress run their lives, affect their relationships and damage their careers. Researchers estimate that up to 75% of all visits to primary-care physicians are for problems related to stress. Migraine headaches, infertility, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, lupus, hives, colitis, depression, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart disease and possibly even cancer are all diseases or conditions that can be adversely affected or even caused by stress.

Think about the word disease for a moment. Break it down into two syllables: DIS-EASE. It's a synonym for the word stress. So isn't it worth spending a few minutes a day observing and writing down your stress-related symptoms if it will help you feel more at-ease now and prevent possible disease in the future?

Journaling is a very healthy way to avoid these negative outcomes and it will teach you a lot about yourself and your sources of stress. After just a week, you'll start to notice patterns of your stress and begin to see exactly where your stress is coming from. Maybe it's the result of interactions with a particular person whose name keeps popping up, or maybe it occurs during a particular time of day that is stressful for you like the morning rush.

I remember when I first started keeping a journal I noticed I experienced stress at the bank, the DMV and the grocery store. But the journal helped me to see the connection between these three very different sources of stress. In each place, I noticed had been waiting in line. That observation, which I never would have made without the journal, was a real aha experience for me. Because it showed me exactly what to do to solve my problem. I called the DMV and found out when the least busy times of the month were to come in. (Don't go at the beginning of the month or the end of the month - and try to avoid Saturdays and Mondays.) And I try to avoid banking on Fridays and shopping on the weekends.

Most people never take even a few minutes to figure out what's bugging them, let alone write these observations down, or consider what the solutions might be. They just soldier on and never get to the bottom of their stress.

Our product, The Stress Management Journal, helps you get to the root of your stress and track your stress for 28 days. Now you can connect the dots between your symptoms of stress and your sources of stress and learn manage your stress too. Every day there's a new lesson for you to learn about managing stress. You can see a ten page sample of the journal here.

James Porter
James Porter


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